About to be fired? 10 steps to protect your rights

By The Office of Scaringi Law posted in Employment Law on Thursday, October 29, 2015.

While many private sector employees are at-will and don't enjoy the same job protections as federal, state or unionized workers, that doesn't mean they don't have protections against arbitrary firings.

Examples of statutory employment protections for private-sector employees include anti-discrimination laws barring dismissals based on race, gender, age and disability. Protections for sexual orientation and genetic factors are being added to the nondiscrimination canon. Additionally, firings can't violate the Family and Medical Leave Act, and no employee can be dismissed for performing his or her civic duty on a jury.

Beyond these examples, the following are 10 do's and don'ts for private sector employees to protect their rights in the midst of a firing:

1. DO call an attorney immediately

Make the call immediately upon your termination, or as soon afterward as possible, even before applying for unemployment and even if you don't suspect any illegal motive behind your termination.

Why? For starters, an experienced employment law attorney will review all of the facts surrounding your firing for possible legal issues. This includes the critical step of accessing your personnel file. Your attorney will provide guidance for moving forward, including exploring options for filing for unemployment benefits and continuing employer health insurance. All of this will have a positive impact on you and your family's quality of life.

2. DON'T sign anything

Never sign anything. Period.

You are under no legal obligation to sign anything when you are fired. This ironclad right is especially important if you believe your termination is involuntary, unfair or unjustified.

If you are presented with any documents for your signature, even if it sounds positive, such as a form to continue your employee benefits, ask for an opportunity to review any termination paperwork with your attorney first.

3. DO rein in emotions

Losing a job is emotional. It is one of the most disruptive of life's many challenges. But sitting in a human resources or manager's office at the moment of your termination isn't the time or place to vent your anger.

Bearing in mind that you plan to seek an attorney's advice to protect your rights, keep those emotions in check. Don't burn any bridges by letting off steam or by bad-mouthing your boss, either to his or her face or to any other person in the company.

It might feel good at the time, but it will provide your employer with ammunition to attack your credibility and character should an attorney peruse legal options regarding your firing or make an unemployment compensation claim.

6. DON'T retaliate

Along with keeping emotions in check, keep any revenge fantasies just that - fantasies. If you are convinced that your termination was grossly unfair or unjustified, trust that your attorney will handle things. Taking matters into your own hands can only harm your case and undermine your rights.

7. DON'T immediately accept severance packages

Sometimes an employer will attempt to soften the blow of a termination by offering the outgoing employee a severance package, including a lump-sum payment. However, the moment of your firing may not be the best time for you to evaluate whether the offer is in your best interests.

If you're not sure, delay taking the offer. It's better to consult an attorney, even if you believe your termination wasn't illicit.

8. DO ask about your final paycheck

Ask when you can expect your final paycheck, along with any other earned fringe benefits such as unused vacation or sick time. Under Pennsylvania's Wage Payment and Collection Law, you have the right to your final wages no later than the next regular payday after your termination.

9. DO collect your personal effects before leaving

Before you leave, request permission to collect all of your personal effects. If you were allowed to receive personal email at work, ask permission to download your personal email and any personal files you maintain on the company computer.

Confiscation or withholding of any such information by your employer isn't just an invasion of your privacy. It might also be illegal, no different from an employer refusing to allow you to take any other personal belongings.

10. DO file for unemployment

Even if you've quit or been fired on allegations of misconduct, file for unemployment. Not only is it possible to win on appeal if your employer fights your claim, but obtaining documents related to your employment and other evidence that goes with appealing a claim can provide information that could help if you pursue a lawsuit.

One of the first steps I take when assisting a recently terminated client is to request a review of the company personnel file. All employees are entitled to see their files while employed and "within a reasonable time immediately following termination."

Acting quickly in reviewing your file could prove critical for any legal steps an attorney might take. Learning its contents also will help protect you from negative disclosures to prospective employers.

By following these 10 do's and dont's and consulting with an experienced employment attorney, you will have taken important steps toward protecting your rights and securing your future -- all on one of the worst days of your life.

To learn more about how Scaringi Law call us toll-free at 877-LAW-2555 or email him at info@scaringilaw.com.


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